tv 2020 ABC September 5, 2014 10:01pm-11:01pm PDT
>> cracking up barbara walters, through years of friendship. tonight, new details from inside the hospital, from one of her closest friends. what she told david muir about johnny carson. >> he never spoke to me again. >> how she overcame it all with humor and heart. >> i had an amazing life. if it ended right now, an amazing life. >> here's david muir. >> good evening, tonight, saying good-bye to joan rivers. >> fans still sending messages of support. and joan rivers in her own words
on what she hoped would happen when she died. and tonight, the investigation into what happened during what was supposed to be a routine procedure. >> reporter: tonight, the flowers on the doorstep of the apartment building where joan rivers lived here in new york. in los angeles, on her star on the hollywood walk of fame. america remembering a legendary comedian now gone. it was just last week the 81-year-old had a packed schedule. doling out some of that classic celebrity ribbing on her e! show "fashion police". >> looks like it's going to split at any minute, like beyonce and jay-z. i'm scared! >> reporter: then performing for a nighttime crowd at a new york theater. it was the very next day rivers was undergoing a routine procedure on her vocal cords at a medical clinic when something went horribly wrong. she went into cardiac arrest. authorities rushing her to new york's mount sinai hospital.
her daughter melissa, her only child, racing from los angeles to be by her mother's side. prayers for joan rivers from all over the world. but after a week in the hospital in a medically induced coma, rivers was taken off life support. "inside edition"'s deborah norville, a close friend for nearly 25 years, was right there at the hospital. >> at a certain point, it was clear that the joan that we loved was not a joan that we would get to be with again and i was given the privilege of getting to say good-bye. >> reporter: like so many who were closest to joan rivers, norville has unanswered questions about what happened during what was supposed to be a routine visit to a doctor. >> this wasn't even fixing anything. this was to just look in there and see why her voice had gotten raspy. shouldn't have happened. shouldn't have happened. >> reporter: the new york state health department has now opened
an investigation into the clinic where rivers was having that procedure. tonight a source tells "abc news" right now there is no suspicion of wrongdoing. >> i personally am really grateful to the health department of new york for launching an investigation and asking these questions so that that there will be answers. and so that joan's family is not in the position of having to wonder or having to drive the process. >> reporter: tonight, the clinic saying they would cooperate with any state review. within moments of that headline that joan rivers was gone, a tidal wave of kind words -- tweets pouring in from heartbroken fans and the comedians who came after joan. including ellen degeneres who said -- "joan rivers will always be a pioneer. she paved the way for a lot of comedians. i'm very sad she's gone." tonight, we focus on her life, one filled with pioneering triumph, personal tragedy, all of it fueling her humor.
>> my wedding, i was supposed bring something black and sexy. >> reporter: it wasn't long ago we went to find her down those stairs at a new york comedy club. joan? are we bothering you? a career that began nearly 50 years ago when she burst onto the "ed sullivan show." >> here's little joan rivers. >> reporter: weren't you pregnant on "ed sullivan"? >> pregnant and you weren't allowed to say it. soon, we're going to hear the pitter patter of little feet. >> and that was breaking ground? >> that was breaking ground to say pitter patter of little feet. may i say, mr. sullivan, i'm delighted to be here. >> reporter: hers was a trailblazing journey. one that day she was also being chronicled by a documentary crew. and there was joan joking about her own mortality. >> they're praying that i die during this filming. wouldn't that be great? wouldn't that be amazing? they got the last year of joan rivers. that would give them such a hook. >> people would watch. >> people would watch. >> that's sick. >> we were there.
i know, but it's sick, but very commercial. >> you'd watch. >> i'd watch. >> reporter: if only she knew the attention, the outpouring of love she would one day receive. and just listen to what she told me backstage. >> this is the last show. no matter how big you get, don't forget you always walk through the kitchen. we followed her up the stairs for a show. behind the door a packed crowd half her age. joan's humor never got old. >> this is where my career has come to. this? all my other [ bleep ] are getting kennedy honors. i'm sitting on the stool that's coming apart. >> reporter: she also invited us into her new york city apartment. photographs everywhere. she took us back to her first days on "the tonight show." her first big break. >> a man doesn't want to come home after a hard day at the office and find some wild-looking sexy wife lying on a carpet saying, "hiya, tiger." yes, he does. right smack then and there
changed my life. >> weren't you the first and only permanent host? >> i was the first permanent guest host, man, woman or child, yeah. and only. >> reporter: and that gig would one day lead to an offer to do her own late night show on another network. >> as soon as i got the fox show, i called johnny and said, "johnny, i've got it." and he hung up, hung up on me. never, never spoke to me again. >> reporter: her show lasted just seven months. it was over and so was her friendship with carson. and as joan struggled publicly, her husband was struggling privately. he killed himself in 1987. for years, she would use humor to mask the pain of losing him. >> husband left me all the money on the condition i have to visit him every single day. so, i had him cremated and sprinkled at neiman marcus. and now sometimes i visit him twice a day. >> you never saw him so much? >> never saw him so much. weekends, holidays, i'm banging on the door. humor comes from great pain and great anger is really where it comes from.
and with my husband, i had both barrels. i'm still furious at him. they say to me, "oh, you'll go to heaven and you'll meet edgar." i'll kill him. >> reporter: after the death of her husband, joan, a single mother, was completely alone and then came a call, a daytime talk show was in the works and other stars had turned it down. she would soon turn her enormous pain into enormous success. the first of many professional reinventions that joan would undergo. that year at the emmy's she was up against oprah and donahue. >> and the winner is -- i'm shaking. joan rivers. >> two years ago, i couldn't get a job in this business. i could not get a job. it's so sad that he's not here because if my husband edgar rosenberg who always said you can turn things around. >> reporter: a decade later, she was back again, being discovered by a new generation of fans. this time on the red carpet with her daughter. saying and asking anything. >> can we see the ring? >> sure.
>> oh, you are a fool. it should be four times this size. you should be ashamed of yourself. >> i know. >> people have so much respect for you. they have watched you re-invent yourself along the way. >> over, and over and over >> and there's enormous respect. >> i think because we're in a business where we don't know where our next job is coming from. you have to constantly re-invent. also, i'm very shallow and a true whore. i like to try everything. >> reporter: she talked openly about her many plastic surgeries in the o.r. long before many. and how she explained it in the beginning, her daughter was still a baby. >> of course, my eyes were black and blue. so, i was carrying melissa and no one did their eyes in those days. so, people would say to me, "what happened to you?" and i'd say, "the baby punched me in the eyes." and they bought it. people were so stupid in those days. >> poor melissa. >> poor melissa. kid hit me in the eyes. >> reporter: and as we all would
learn, behind all of that humor, was her humility. >> i'm proud of nothing, my darling. i am swimming upstream. i think the key through life is if you don't laugh at yourself, you're an ass, you're a fool. anyone who doesn't laugh at themselves, they are so out of my book. >> reporter: and tonight, her daughter melissa reminding the world of that same message, offering this statement -- "my mother's greatest joy in life was to make people laugh. although that is difficult to do right now, i know her final wish would be that we return to laughing soon." and as we would discover in her memoirs, rivers herself knew exactly what she wanted her funeral to look like. >> i want my funeral to be a huge showbiz affair with lights and cameras, action. i want craft services, i want paparazzi and i want publicists making a scene. i want it to be hollywood all the way. don't give me some rabbi rambling on. i want meryl streep crying in five different accents. i want to look gorgeous, better
dead than i do alive. i want to be buried in a valentino gown. i want harry winston to make me a toe tag. >> she would love every bit of this publicity. joan was the first 15 minutes in all the morning programs today. joan would love this. when we come back, barbara walters and joan rivers. 25 years of friendship and truth telling about the career that almost didn't happen. >> i was fired from my job every night. they would come back and say, you're gone. >> next on "20/20."
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still did not know what was coming. >> it seems to me that everybody out here has a name for their house, do you have a name for your house? >> mortgage manor. >> reporter: when i interviewed her back in 1982, joan rivers was flying high. she was one of the hottest nightclub acts in america, on the road almost ten months a year, earning up to $100,000 a week. she was the brash blonde who lived larger and louder than life. >> can we talk here? do you want to know what bravery is? bravery is to make a gynecologist appointment and show up. that is what bravery is all about. >> nothing embarrasses you? >> onstage, nothing, yes. in private life, everything. >> you are very different off stage than on. what's the difference? >> on stage, i say all the things i think about in the shower. you know, it's like you go to a party and the next day, i should have said that to that one, and then the nice thing is you go on stage and you say it, because i'm very shy. i'm very pulled back. i hate to meet new people and i am very intimidated by the
greats. >> did you become a comedienne because it's your way, perhaps, of saying, "you're not going to make fun of me, you're not going to tear me down. i am going to do it before you." >> absolutely, absolutely. if you tell them first they can't get, they can't get you, they can't hurt you. >> reporter: born joan molinski, she grew up in larchmont, new york. >> oh! the ugliest child ever born in larchmont, new york. okay? the doctor looked at me and slapped my mother. you want to hear stories? then he pushed me back in and screamed, "she's not done yet!" >> how did a nice jewish girl, daughter of a doctor, become a comedienne? >> i wanted, we all wanted to be actresses. >> how did your parents feel when you said i want to be in show business? >> terrible scene. if i had come to them and said i want to be a doctor, said, "go. do it." if i had said i want to be a rocket scientist, they would have said, "isn't that nice?" i said i want to be an actress and my father, whenever a prostitute came to his office, they would say, "i'm an actress," you know what i mean?
when i said i'm an actress, i want to be an actress, my father said, "she wants to be a prostitute." so they threw me out, they just couldn't take it. they tossed me out of the house. >> reporter: a phi beta kappa graduate of barnard college, joan started her career calling herself pepper january, comedy with spice. >> i was singing in strip joints, "i'm in love with mr. clean." i was singing, you know, and they would just go crazy, you know, "take it off," and if i had it would have been worse. >> reporter: those early years were lean and hungry days. no stage was too humble for a woman who was cracking the glass ceiling of an all-white male comedy club. what was it like? >> oh. barbara, the worst. it was awful. it was horrendous and i was fired from the job every night. i would do these shows, one show, and the owner would come back and say, you're gone. >> were you that bad? >> i was performing and over the loudspeaker the owner said, "get her out of here." it was awful. because of that, i was fired so
often that, not to this day, up to three years ago, i would leave nothing in a dressing room. i was so superstitious because the worst part is to come back the next day when you've been fired and have to pick up all your make-up and explain to all the cleaning people. >> reporter: we now know those years of trawling the seedy nightclub circuit finally paid off big. >> february 17th. think it made an impression? >> at what time -- moment did you walk out on the stage? >> i had been kicking around in the business for six years before that and told three weeks before by my agent, you're too old and you're not funny. and i went on the carson show as a girl writer. i had been brought to the carson show seven times. i had auditioned for them seven times. >> and got turned down? >> seven times turned down. and i was in the village and starving and it was a horrendous period for me. terribly down, terribly depressed. i went on the carson show and that night, i get very emotional, he said, "you're going to be a star."
look at this, i can't even talk about it, and that changed my life. i'm so grateful to him -- i tell him all these years later, i still thank him. he changed my whole life. he turned around and said, "you're all wrong. she is funny." >> what did you do that night? >> i couldn't believe it. see, i'm crying now. i couldn't believe it. i looked, he said, "you're going to be a star," and i looked next to me, who is he talking to? and my agent said, "from now on," he said, "i guarantee you will make at least $150 a week for the rest of your life." >> wow! >> wow. and i said, but i said at that time, wow. because i was getting six dollars a night at that point. >> reporter: i interviewed her before that bitter break with johnny carson. >> here's joan rivers! >> reporter: those were the golden years when she had become his most popular stand-in. >> you do the johnny carson show probably more than any other guest host, do you not? >> i do it a lot. >> you do. okay. yet, when there are times when you hear that johnny may or may not leave the show and names come up as possible replacements, i don't hear your name. >> never. >> why?
>> i'm a woman. i'm acerbic. i'm new york and i'm jewish. >> it's okay to guest host, but you couldn't do it all the time? >> no. no way, no. >> would you want to? >> in a second. but it will never happen. >> i can see why being a woman would do -- you know, why new york and jewish? >> again, because there's a certain roughness and a certain edge to a new yorker. anybody that has a little zap to them turns a lot of people off, you know? you want to go, "i'm just here to make you laugh. it's all a joke, folks." you know? >> you have worked very hard. you've described yourself sometimes as a turtle. >> my career is very slow. >> people don't think so. >> oh, barbara. it's little tiny steps. my career is not that you go in a show and you take off. it's been from the beginning inching up, inching up, inching and it's still that way. >> reporter: for more years than
i can remember, joan and i shared laughter and friendship. both off stage and on. her majesty, joan rivers! >> and no more botox! betty white's bowels move more than my face. it's like -- i can totally be a skin donor. >> reporter: she often joked with me about being the queen of plastic surgery. just look at how radically her face changed through the years. what we all love about you is that you do make fun of yourself. what are some of the things you say about joan rivers? >> oh. with facelifts? >> yeah. >> every time i cross my legs, my mouth snaps open. i really feel i got my face tightened because now, every time, now, that i swallow, i have an orgasm. i mean, i have a million jokes. but, you know, by laughing at it, it makes it okay. >> why are you so open? you didn't have to be. >> because we're in a society
where looks count, barbara. that's number one. and all the beautiful women lie and say i've done nothing, and that is so unfair. and i just want women to know it's okay. do it. >> what do you say to people who say, "joan rivers, you have just done too much?" >> and i say, "mind your business." and if it's a man, i always look at the wife, who's usually 11 years old with fake breasts. >> reporter: the woman america knew as a pop culture icon, comedienne, talk show host, author, actress, red carpet gadfly, was my brave and fearless friend. even at 81, she was still the hardest working woman in show business. that i know. >> i worked very hard for where i am, but i'm also very, very lucky and i'm very, very grateful. every night before i walk on stage i always say, "thank you god." just in case he's listening.
when we come back, joan rivers on figuring out the chemistry of comedy. and how she passed on its dna to the next generation. next, on joan rivers, living for the laughs. [ narrator ] mama sherman and the legion of super fans. no sign of him yet. keep looking. [ narrator ] their mission: to get richard sherman his campbell's chunky soup. hi, baby! hi, mama! take us home! wow! it's new chunky beer-n-cheese with beef and bacon soup. beer... cheese... beef... bacon... ♪ i love it. and mama loves you. [ all ] awwwwww! it fills you up right. ♪
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joan rivers, a comedy legend continues. here now, chris connelly. >> reporter: she would not go gentle into any good night. some of her later years saw joan rivers trying to pick public fights as she did on david letterman's "late show" with the singer adele. >> oh yeah, lovely woman. >> oh yeah. ah, no, no, she's thin.
can we just talk to each other here? >> reporter: yet this past july, she would walk off a cnn set when interviewer fredericka whitfield characterized rivers' critiques as "mean." >> you sell out on stage, even with your fashion critiquing, while it's very mean in some ways people can't wait to hear what you have to say. >> it's not mean. it's not mean. >> really? it's not mean? >> stop it with you do this, and you're mean, and you're that. you are not the one to interview a person who does humor. sorry. >> are we serious? >> reporter: joan rivers was serious about her professional prerogatives. for her, being a comic gave her the right to ridicule, like her friend, don rickles. and like bob hope before her, rivers kept a career's worth of gags readily accessible on three by five index cards filed by topic in her home office, as the 2010 documentary "joan rivers: a piece of work" revealed. >> joan was always writing notes
always keeping little scraps of paper in her purse with her jokes and then it would go into the file cabinet. >> why should a woman cook? so her husband can say, "my wife makes a delicious cake" to some hooker? and you wonder why i'm still working at this age. >> reporter: through more than 50 years of standup, rivers was a kind of alchemist who began by spinning threads from her own life into comic gold, as she did on "the carol burnett show." >> i'm from brooklyn but i haven't been back there for a long time. when i left, i left as a little ugly flat-chested little girl and here i am, voila today! an ugly, flat-chested, little woman. >> reporter: in 1967, on one of her career-establishing appearances on "the ed sullivan show," a 31-year-old joan came off anything but aggressive, looking shiny as a penny and sounding like she wouldn't hurt a flea. >> a girl, she's 30 years old she's not married? she's an old maid.
a man, he's 90 years old, he's not married, he's a catch. it's a whole different thing! >> reporter: at her peak in 1986, on "the tonight show with johnny carson," a revved-up joan was out on the edge just starting to take down the famous. >> christie brinkley is a living testament. >> she's what? you never can look at me and do these, can you? >> she the living -- >> tell me about her a little bit. >> she's the living testament -- >> the living testament to -- >> that -- >> that what? christie brinkley is a living testament that? >> peroxide causes brain damage! >> reporter: while she gleefully pushed the pre-cable envelope on relationships with unsentimental smarts and the candor of a cab driver. >> don't you think men really like intelligence more when it comes right down to it? >> ah, please! no man has ever put his hand up a woman's dress looking for a library card!
>> reporter: by the 21st century, she was sun's-out-guns-out on the red carpet, teeing off on award-show celebrities for their fashion foibles. >> it's the first i've ever seen a woman with a case of blue balls. >> reporter: um, ouch? yet for rivers, it wasn't about being mean, it was about being funny. >> she really believed that by insulting someone or taking them to task she was actually doing them a favor. she actually believed that it was a kind of great compliment, that it meant they were relevant. she did not see her insults as being terribly insulting. >> reporter: her unabashed willingness to "go there" would empower everyone from kathy griffin to wanda sykes. >> i tried waxing for the first time. i smacked the -- out of her. >> reporter: her fearlessness shining in the work of such supersmart comic superstars as tina fey, like rivers, a second city alum, and amy poehler, here
at the 2013 golden globes. >> i haven't really been following the controversy over "zero dark 30," but when it comes to torture, i trust the lady who spent three years married to james cameron. >> reporter: influenced herself by phyllis diller, rivers weaponized day-to-day domestic-front comic riffs into something like social criticism of the rituals of suburban life county. as she did in her >> i'm from a little town called larchmont where if you're not married, if you're a girl, and you're over 21, you're better off dead! it's that simple, you know? >> reporter: a new generation would give rivers her propers as sarah silverman did on the web series "in bed with joan." >> women run comedy. it's all tina fey and whitney cummings and joan rivers. >> and all those hacks. that's enough! >> reporter: in an old-school showbiz world dominated by men who flaunted their privilege, rivers fought for opportunities. battling to be paid what she was worth, hosting her own shows without compromising her
viewpoint or her sass. >> i don't know if any of you saw in the paper we have been banned in boston, which i think is wonderful, wxne, so pick a finger, wxne. >> reporter: from stand-up to internet snark, if you seek joan rivers' influence, just look around and laugh, even if this comedy matriarch never wanted to be seen as a pioneer or a trailblazer. >> i don't like when the ladies come up and say, "oh, you broke barriers for women!" i say, "i'm still breaking barriers, that's starting with it. and i can still take you, sweetheart, with both hands tied behind my back!" next, how joan turned family life into the family business. dealing with the tragedy of her husband's suicide. >> i'm still furious. you checked out? >> and duking it out with
melissa in a movie about themselves, playing themselves. >> are you angry about something? >> we'll be right back. eachwon't have a claim.wners that's why allstate claim free rewards gives you money back for every year you don't have one. and why if you're part of the other 5%, allstate offers claim rateguard. so your rates won't go up just because of a claim. no matter what comes your way,
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wealth management at charles schwab "20/20" continues with more of joan rivers. living for the laughs. here's john quinones. >> reporter: joan rivers' personal life was so intertwined with her career that to separate the two was to do the impossible. >> mom, you look amazing. >> melissa, i saw what's going on under my chin. i don't want to be the one the president has to pardon on thanksgiving. >> reporter: much of the time if she's wasn't on stage doing stand up, she was with her
46-year-old daughter who was often part of her work. reality tv, competition shows, red carpets -- all woven into joan's personal life. >> i think people really, really responded to the relationship between the two of them and they were very co-dependent on each other they had they did all the things that probably mothers and daughters are not supposed to do. but they loved each other so much. >> reporter: she was the ultimate jewish mother, always looking after her family. >> where are you going? >> meetings. >> like that? >> yeah. >> you know my rule. we are in new york, before you leave the house you look in the mirror and you put one more things on. >> mom, i'm going to a meeting not studio 54. >> reporter: and that family included her 13-year-old grandson, cooper. >> you're so cute. everyone tells you how cute you are. >> reporter: the family business started in 1965, when the struggling comedian met a producer named edgar rosenberg. joan rarely talked about her
husband as seriously as she did in this 2010 documentary. >> i met him and married him four days later. we worked on projects together so it was a family business. i bought the book "the joy of sex," okay, and i got, do you read that chapter 11? where you wrap yourself up totally in saran wrap? and i lay -- oh yeah, it's great. and i laid down on the dining room table when my husband came home he says leftovers again? >> reporter: publicly, she was tough and brazen. but when it came to her husband, who managed her private life, she was protective, calling him her "rock of gibraltar." as she told barbara walters in 1982. >> does edgar ever mind your making all these jokes about him? i mean, you make terrible jokes. >> not one joke about edgar. stop and think. >> no, they are all about -- >> all about me. i have never made a joke about my husband. people think i do, he is such a gentleman. >> do some of them so we -- >> my wedding night, edgar said, let me help you with the buttons. i said, i'm naked. that's a joke about my body, not about my husband.
>> reporter: three years later she and edgar give birth to their daughter melissa and they moved their family to los angeles. >> when i got married thank goodness, i always knock on wood my mother, thrilled. she wore a cheerleading outfit i mean just standing there going hooray for joan. >> reporter: in spite of her tireless work as a stand-up, joan tried to be home every night, as melissa explained in the documentary. >> everyone's like, oh what's it like living with a legend which is why i always say to people you don't realize how in these very extraordinary, abnormal circumstances what a normal world my parents created. >> reporter: as melissa grew from young girl to teenager, joan's career was taking off. >> it's the late show starring joan rivers. >> reporter: in 1986 joan launched that late night talk show on fox, making her husband the executive producer. but when the show failed, edgar took it very personally.
soon after, joan and melissa got an unimaginable phone call, edgar had committed suicide. mother and daughter were shattered. >> i'm still furious with him. son of a [ bleep ]. they say to me, oh go to heaven and you will meet edgar. i'll kill him. you left me with no money, a child that was destroyed, no career and you checked out. go [ bleep ] yourself. >> reporter: melissa was also bitter but it was aimed at her mother. >> it was very hard in the beginning because she blamed me. >> reporter: joan left malibu to return home to new york to make a new beginning. >> it was a terrible year. terrible year. and finally i said i'm going back to new york, and i'm going to do something, so i called neil simon and said, can i try out for broadway bound and then we got emmy's, and it was a great show. >> reporter: professionally joan was starting to pick up the pieces, but personally she was
still trying to rebuild her relationship with her daughter. and they found their own way to deal with the lingering grief, in front of the camera. in what they called a cathartic experience, they made a movie playing themselves. >> i'm very, very angry with you. you haven't spent one minute at home. >> reporter: as they continued to heal, joan started including melissa in her work. melissa, the straight man. to joan's punchlines. they even moved into the same house showcasing their lives in a reality tv series. >> hey mom. a little dribble a little dribble. >> why is your dog in my house?
>> you know i always travel with lola. she -- she's the gail to my oprah. >> reporter: her talent was so bright over the decades, her family shared the spotlight. >> i love you and your life has meant something to me and more importantly you've meant something to me. you've made a difference. >> i hope when you get older you will get your face done. >> i knew that's where it was going. i knew it. i knew exactly that was going to be the joke. next, the business of being joan. it wasn't just funny business. the joan you haven't seen before. >> thank you. >> next, on joan rivers, living for the laughs.
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>> reporter: joan rivers was more than a comedian, she was a brand. a one-woman empire worth an estimated $150 million. >> like, i'm a racist. yeah, right. let me tell you i don't give a [ bleep ] if you're white or black or yellow or green as long as you can do my hair. yes! >> reporter: at age 81, rivers was still a tireless dynamo just last week, covering both the mtv "vma awards" and the "emmy's." >> we'll be back in a jiffy with more looks that are iffy. >> reporter: in one of rivers' most insightful moments shown here in the documentary, "joan rivers: a piece of work," we see that drive and determination to stay relevant. >> i'll show you fear. that's fear. if my book ever looked like this, it would mean that nobody
likes me. i'm totally forgotten. >> she had many stories of not getting the check as a woman performer at a nightclub and coming back the next day and the check wouldn't be there, so i think over time she had to build a smart business tough skin around her. >> these were the good years. >> there were the good years. >> she was successful because she was a, really smart and b, she looked for opportunity. he wanted to provide for her family. she wanted to live well. >> reporter: live well and live large. at home, joan enjoyed the trappings of success with an opulence usually reserved for caesar's palace. >> have you ever been to a private dinner in someone's home where they have finger bowls? she lived beautifully, she lived elegantly. >> in this business, you have to work hard. we can do anything in this country, but you've got to work hard for it. >> reporter: just this summer,
she released her 12th book, "diary of a mad diva," a top ten "new york times" best seller. she was a broadway regular and recorded several well-received records -- one of which was nominated for a grammy. >> i will go anywhere. i will get on any plane to do the business, any part of this. writing directing, acting. stand-up. i just love the business. >> reporter: her business brand extended to cosmetics, fashion and even a jewelry accessories line that generated $4.5 million in sales annually and quickly became a favorite on qvc. >> love you. mean it! >> it all came from that instinct that she felt that she was one of our customers. she knew what our customers wanted and cared about and she could bring that customer a little joy and a little inspiration. >> reporter: behind the public
persona and brash comedy, a softer side of rivers, bringing smiles to others in an entirely different way. >> so incredibly generous. there's a scene in the movie where she's writing checks. i mean, stacks of checks. >> i'm a small industry. most people who work with me if they have children, i send the children to private school. >> joan competed for god's love on celebrity apprentice in 2009. >> reporter: she ended up winning and with it more than half a million dollars for her beloved charity. >> she saved us in some ways during the worst of the recession. the amount of money that she raised for us really, we call her an angel. >> reporter: god's love we deliver. they provide meals and support to those with life altering illnesses. >> i think this teaches you what thanksgiving is really about. i know it sounds corny, but we do this. this is our fourth year and by
giving to other people, you sit down at your table and realize lucky you are. >> what's really most meaningful is it's from the heart. she means it. she's not just doing good because that's something to check off on her list. she really means it. >> reporter: a powerful offstage legacy for this onstage legend. don't just dream of being the hero. make it happen. i can't believe we're missing the game for this.
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>> you had a baby. oh, good. is it healthy? yeah. good, good. is it ripe? yes. >> good, good. >> she'll be taking something so painful we can barely look at and make it palatable. and funny. >> coping with everything with comedy. >> oh! >> much more honest and much more right down to the bone. this is the face of
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